13 Jul 2020

Cantus Christi: 2020

Last month I received in the mail a copy of Cantus Christi 2020, the latest edition of a psalter and hymnal produced by Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. The reason I was sent this is because I provided the music for their metrical text of Psalm 137. Whether it is appropriate to review a collection to which one has contributed I will leave the reader to decide. But given that I was in no way connected with the planning and editorial process, I believe I am permitted to post my impressions of the volume as a whole.

In that spirit I will indicate that this is a remarkable achievement drawing on the liturgical riches of the larger Christian tradition as well as on the gifts of the living contributors. That it was produced, not by a denomination, but by a single congregation is all the more impressive, although this makes for certain deficiencies, two of which I shall mention below. I myself worshipped at Christ Church during my visit to New Saint Andrew's College in late 2018, so I was able to make a brief acquaintance with the confessional and liturgical ethos of the congregation, which is part of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches, a quite new denomination that is unusual for not having broken off from another larger Reformed denomination in the past.

23 May 2020

Psałterz Poznański: Psalm 67

They're at it again. Psałterz Poznański has now posted a lovely performance of Psalm 67. Here are the introductory remarks translated by google into English:

This beautiful Davidic psalm is at the same time thanksgiving (for the crops of the earth and other his gifts), a request for His blessing (in particular, that his ways would be known all over the Earth) and a call addressed to all nations to worship God. We invite you to listen to and sing Psalm 67 together.

The Polish lyrics and guitar chords can be found here.

17 May 2020

Sweelinck's Psalm 96

I never tire of listening to performances of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's exquisite arrangement of Genevan Psalm 96. Not everyone does a good job of it, but Dennis Keene and the Voices of Ascension get it right.

I've not heard all of Sweelinck's arrangements of the Psalms, so I cannot say whether every one is as beautiful as this. At some point I would like to get my hands on Het Sweelinck Monument, which includes all 150 of his psalm arrangements. When and if I do, I will be sure to review it here.

14 May 2020

Central Presbyteria Church Virtual Choir singing from Psalm 19

During the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, many churches have been having online worship services and virtual choirs. Here is our church's virtual choir singing the closing verse of Psalm 19 to a setting composed by our choir director, Roger Bergs:

29 Nov 2019

Jubilee Octet

Youtube and social media have probably done more to disseminate knowledge of the Genevan Psalter than all the printed volumes over the past four and a half centuries. Here is a small choral ensemble known as the Jubilee Octet singing several of the Psalms. These were posted earlier in November, so this appears to be a quite new venture.

There are more on their YouTube channel.

16 Oct 2019

We Praise Thee, O God: a literary analysis of the Te Deum

A few weeks ago I began volunteering at a local food bank. In between conversing with clients and manning a literature table for the chaplain, I discovered there is time for other things. As I had neglected to bring anything to read, I decided to undertake a literary analysis of the ancient Te Deum, a 4th-century Latin hymn traditionally sung on great occasions of thanksgiving. As I typically pray this during my daily prayer regimen, I mostly know it by heart. Variously ascribed to Sts. Ambrose and Augustine and to Nicetas of Remesiana, its authorship is otherwise unknown.

Now I freely admit that, as an academic political scientist, I am by no means an expert in literary analysis beyond the basics. However, I have noticed a few things about the Te Deum that I thought worth passing along.

15 Aug 2019

Genevan Psalter website taken down

This is to alert readers of this blog that my Genevan Psalter website has been taken down from the server of my former employer. I am not altogether certain that I will repost it elsewhere. I may try to see whether I can get the collection published in printed form at some point. For now I will keep this blog in place, but it will now be devoted to posting articles and videos related to the Genevan and other metrical psalters.

11 Jun 2019

Psalm videos for June

Here are some more psalm videos I've discovered recently:

Psalm 97:

Psalm 50:

Psalm 68, or the Huguenot "fight song":

5 Apr 2019

David's Psalter: Two more recordings

I have recently discovered and purchased two more recordings of the Polish David's Psalter of Jan Kochanowski (1530-1584) and Mikołaj Gomółka (c. 1535–after 1591). The first is Mikołaj Gomółka Melodie na Psałterz Polski Opera Omnia, recorded in Kraków in 2016. Here is a sample, Psalm 122:

The second is Audite Gentes! Psalms of the Golden Age, featuring the solo voice of Paulina Ceremużyńska, singing to guitar and percussion accompaniment. This was released in 2015. Here is Psalm 1:

Both recordings are available from iTunes, amazon.com and similar sources.

Incidentally, last sunday afternoon, the Central Presbyterian Church Choir, in which my daughter and I sing, led a festival of Psalms. Among the pieces we sang were two from David's Psalter, Psalms 1 and 29, using my texts. As far as I know, the event was not recorded. However, we will be singing Psalm 29 again on sunday morning, and a recording may be live streamed on youtube. If so, I will link to it on this blog.

4 Jan 2019

Psalm 100 in Hungarian

Here is a compelling arrangement and performance of Genevan Psalm 100 according to the text of Albert Szenci Molnár (1574-1634). I had not come across this particular arrangement of the tune, and the poster doesn't tell who the composer is. Performed by the Psalterium Hungaricum Choir conducted by Katalin Györffy, with Bernadett Szekér on the piano, it was recorded on 4 November 2018 at the Fasori Reformed Church in Budapest.

Incidentally, the video incorrectly numbers the Psalm as 90.

3 Jan 2019

The Illuminated Book of Psalms

My beloved wife has the wonderful habit of giving me Christmas gifts related to the biblical Psalter. Last year she gave me a copy of the 1650 Scottish Psalter printed in 1788. This year she presented me with a beautifully constructed volume, titled The Illuminated Book of Psalms: The Illustrated Text of All 150 Prayers and Hymns. It contains the Psalms from the King James Version of the Bible in a most attractive format. Although the texts are printed in a modern font, the initial letter of each psalm is large and stylized. Interspersed amongst the texts are images from a variety of mediaeval European psalters and books of hours, and even some Jewish and Islamic manuscripts. The overall aesthetic effect is definitely appealing, particularly to someone who already loves mediaeval art.

The books of hours were treasured volumes owned largely by nobles at a time before the invention of the printing press, when books were lovingly hand-written and not widely available to a broader—and mostly illiterate—public. We tend to associate the regimen of daily prayer with the monasteries, but non-monastic nobles, who could more easily afford them, prayed the Liturgy of the Hours in some fashion with the aid of such books. As we might expect, these were in Latin, the liturgical language of the western church. Accordingly, most of the images include at least a portion of the Latin text of the relevant psalm.

Unfortunately, artists, philologists and biblical scholars are not known for collaborating on projects, and this points to one of the defects of this volume. The editors seem unaware that the numbering of the Psalms differs through most of the collection between the Hebrew and the Septuagint/Latin Vulgate. Furthermore, the editors appear not to be familiar with Latin. This means that some of the images are correctly identified as a particular psalm according to the LXX/Vulgate numbering, but they are juxtaposed with the printed text according to the Hebrew numbering. At least one fragment is entirely misidentified (Psalm 81 becomes 84 on p. 142), an error that could have been prevented if it had been proofread by someone with knowledge of both the Bible and of Latin. The juxtaposition of an Islamic manuscript with Psalm 90 goes unexplained, and one senses that aesthetic considerations outweighed actual relevance in this case.

Nevertheless, despite the flaws, the volume is beautiful in virtually every respect as a work of art, and it could even function as a prayer book for the believer accustomed to Jacobean English. An attached red bookmark will aid in this use. Its size measures 5.6 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches and weighs 12.6 ounces, making it easily portable.

One last thing to note is that there appear to be slightly different editions of this title on the market, such as this and this, sold respectively in Canada and the United Kingdom. Whether they use the same images I cannot say without seeing the other volumes, but they seem to represent the same high quality that went into my copy.

The Genevan Psalter's debt to Gregorian chant, 2

Here's one more on this topic posted by Canadian organist Frank Ezinga:

It would be wonderful if a young scholar in liturgical studies were to undertake to explore more thoroughly the connection between Gregorian chant and the Genevan melodies. At 4.05 Ezinga introduces his collection of Genevan Psalters in different languages. I would personally love to get my hands on an early copy of the original French psalter, as well as Hungarian and Indonesian psalters. Someday perhaps.

31 Dec 2018

The Genevan Psalter's debt to Gregorian chant

One of the persistent myths about the origin of the Genevan Psalter is that its tunes were borrowed from popular melodies of the era, a misconception repeated by Abraham Kuyper in his Lectures on Calvinism in 1898. This view has been thoroughly discredited in the ensuing century. The use of the traditional church modes in the Genevan corpus constitutes evidence that the tunes owe a debt to Gregorian chant.

But there's even stronger evidence for this in individual psalm tunes. George van Popta, a member of the Lovers of Metrical Psalters facebook group, alerted us to this example of a Gregorian chant which seems an obvious source of one of the Genevan Psalms. This is the Victimae paschali laudes sung at Easter:

Now compare this to Genevan Psalm 80:

Here is Ernst Stolz' rendition of the same psalm:

This is powerful testimony that the Reformers, far from wishing to restart the church from scratch, as the ancient Donatists had attempted, readily retained what was good, true and beautiful in the ancient liturgies of the church catholic, adapting them for congregational use.

13 Nov 2018

Psałterz Poznański: Psalm 150

Here is a marvellous rendition of Psalm 150, sung in Polish and accompanied by bouzouki, ukulele, hoop drum and tambourine. This is the work of the Psałterz Poznański: Psalm 150.

29 Oct 2018

Sweelinck: Psalm 150

The Middelburgs Kamerchoor performs Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's arrangement of Genevan Psalm 150:

3 Oct 2018

Jiří Strejc: Žalm 99

More than four decades ago I acquired an old psalter and hymnal in Prague dating to the turn of the last century. The Psalms were set to the Genevan melodies and were versified by Jiří Strejc (1536-1599) in the Czech language. Click here to learn the full story. Here is a performance of Psalm 99 using Strejc's text:

Read more on Strejc's Czech Psalter.

18 Sep 2018

The Gettys: Psalm 130

Keith and Kristyn Getty are two contemporary hymn-writers who are having an impact on the liturgical life of the church around the world. It is difficult now to recall a time before In Christ Alone came into being at the start of the century. Here is their version of the De Profundis, Psalm 130, the product of a collaborative effort among Keith Getty, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker and Stuart Townend:

Incidentally, the tune at the beginning and end is the well-known common-metre melody, MARTYRDOM, while the text appears to be a reworking of that from the Scottish Psalter of 1650.

13 Jul 2018

A Manual of Parochial Psalmody: Tate & Brady for the 19th century

Not too long ago I was looking through our family's collection of antiquarian and rare books and made a delightful discovery. I picked up a leather-bound volume with the following printed on the spine: HORNE'S PSALMS AND HYMNS. I opened it up and found the full title inside: A Manual of Parochial Psalmody: Comprising Select Portions from the Old and New Versions of the Psalms, Together with Hymns, for the Principal Festivals, etc., of the Church of England; Revised, and Adapted to the Service of the Church, for Every Sunday, etc., Throughout the Year. By the Rev. Thomas Hartwell Horne, B. D., author of An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.

Because this is the sort of book that interests me greatly, I assumed that I must have purchased it somewhere long ago and subsequently forgot about it. But I couldn't imagine that I would neglect to remember such a thing. However, when I looked inside the cover, I found my wife's handwriting. It turns out that she had purchased the volume during her studies in Cambridge, England, in 1987, and it sat unnoticed in our library for all the years of our marriage.

4 Jul 2018

Salmo 2 em português

Most of the history of psalm-singing has consisted, not of sophisticated choral polyphony, but of ordinary believers joining their voices to worship the God who has saved them in Jesus Christ. Here is Genevan Psalm 2, reputedly a favourite amongst Brazilian Christians, sung in Portuguese.

19 Jun 2018

Psaume 150: Sweelinck

Here is a lovely performance of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's arrangement of Genevan Psalm 150: